Coronavirus: what are settings doing about it?


With the emergence of the new coronavirus, which has been declared a ‘global health emergency’ by the World Health Organization (WHO), Nursery World looks at what precautions settings are putting in place.

The coronavirus, which has now been named Covid-19
The coronavirus, which has now been named Covid-19
  • UK early years settings following official advice and may not be indemnified to give own advice
  • China-based settings tell of the impact on them

With the emergence of the new coronavirus, which has been declared a ‘global health emergency’ by the World Health Organization (WHO), Nursery World looks at what precautions settings are putting in place.

The coronavirus, which has now been named Covid-19, causes severe acute respiratory infection, and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. Most people who are infected are likely to recover just like with flu.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, responsible for the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002-03 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Some coronaviruses cause serious illness, while others cause mild or moderate infections, like the common cold.

The current situation

As Nursery World went to press, a total of 60,355 people in China, where the virus originated, had been infected (source John Hopkins University, CSSE, 13.02.20).

Outside of China, there are at least 510 confirmed cases of the virus in 25 countries including Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United States, France and Germany. There are nine cases of coronavirus in the UK.

Last week, nine schools in East Sussex said some of their pupils or staff were being kept in isolation after concerns were raised that a Brighton man who tested positive for the virus may have passed it to others.

Prior to this, local authorities in England were given guidance from the Government to disseminate to early years settings and schools about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (see overleaf).

Settings in China

Nursery World contacted a number of UK childcare operators who run settings in China, an international school, as well as Mandarin nurseries in this country.

Western International School of Shanghai, which cares for children from the age of two-and-a-half, said while it remained closed, staff have been engaging with students via online learning (see Case study).

Reports suggest that Chinese officials have told schools not to re-open until at least March.

Busy Bees, the UK’s largest childcare operator, which operates nurseries in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, told Nursery World it ‘has been proactive in its approach to coronavirus across the group’.

Head of safety at Busy Bees, Emily Brimson-Keight, said, ‘Our colleagues in South East Asia have been instrumental in shaping the advice we issued to our families and educators in the UK, Ireland and further afield.

‘When the news first broke, we wanted to provide support to our staff, while reassuring parents of the measures that we are taking to minimise the risk of infections. Although there were no confirmed cases in the UK at this point, we made the decision to inform our colleagues and families in the UK, combining best practice advice set out by governing bodies from territories in which we operate.

‘We will continue to monitor the situation closely within the territories in which we operate, and we will be implementing additional measures if the situation escalates. Safeguarding the health and well-being of all children and staff at centres across the country has to be the priority for the sector.’

Hatching Dragons, which operates two English-Mandarin bilingual nurseries in London, said while none of its families or staff had been directly affected, many at the nursery chain have friends and families who are indirectly affected by the ‘significant’ quarantine effort implemented by the Chinese government.

Karla Pech, marketing manager, said, ‘While we are a bilingual Mandarin-English provision and have Chinese families within our community, none of our pre-existing families returned to China during Luna New Year, thankfully, so we face the same policy decisions that other schools are faced with when reviewing such an issue as this. We review all Government guidance and advice from their agencies on a daily basis, as all schools would and should do.

‘We were vigilant to implement a policy early on, which has only now been circulated by the local authorities at the behest of Public Health England (PHE), to restrict access to settings for any individuals who may have travelled to or from China in the past two weeks for a period of two weeks, which is the timeframe stipulated by PHE. This is on top of our own robust infection control policies.’

She added, ‘There is much concern growing on this issue throughout the media and the local community, not least because we are based in a densely populated global city.

‘However, the Government’s view at this time is that the risk is controlled, even as it may be evolving, and so we act on their advice but with extra vigilance over this critical period, as we all should.’

Bambinos Day Nurseries, which is owned by Chinese education investment company JiaYi Education, said there had been no impact on its settings as the owners permanently reside in China.

Meanwhile, the Early Years Alliance said it has paused any activity in China given the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Chief executive Neil Leitch explained, ‘We have paused activity such as training and practitioner exchange visits in China until further notice. However, our work there remains a key part of our international strategy, and we look forward to resuming operations in the region in due course.’

Advice to schools and settings

Earlier in the month, local authorities in England were issued with guidance to disseminate to early years providers, schools and further education providers about how to keep the virus at bay.

A poster has been created for providers to put up in their settings which promotes good hygiene practices.

Government guidance for parents/carers states that they should not be ‘unduly worried’ about the possibility of children catching the virus and there is no reason children shouldn’t attend their setting or school as normal.

Andrew Manners, director of Morgan La Roche solicitors, said that when it comes to health matters generally, settings may not be indemnified to give advice other than referring to the NHS published guidance. Settings should seek urgent advice from their insurers or broker if they are contemplating issuing such guidance’ he added.

Plus, he added, 'insurers would find it very difficult to indemnify a nursery if easily accessible government advice had not been followed.'

The Girls’ School Association has recommended its schools advise parents, carers and guardians of any pupils proposing to travel to South East Asia over February half-term to consider not travelling.

In the case of students who decide to travel, the body has recommended that schools advise them and their families that protective measures could be in place before they return and that they prepare for the possibility of quarantine procedures.

The Boarding Schools’ Association has issued similar advice.

The National Day Nurseries Association, Early Years Alliance and PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) have posted information for member settings on their websites.

For the latest Government information and advice on coronavirus, visit www.gov.uk.

Case study

Lisa Kane (pictured, above right), early years deputy principal/nursery teacher at Western International School of Shanghai, spoke to Nursery World about how the coronavirus has impacted her and the school she works at in China.

She said, ‘I have lived in Shanghai for nine years, seven of these teaching. Our early years building has students from aged two-and-a-half to six, from many different parts of the world.

‘I returned home to Scotland with my daughter for the two-week Chinese New Year holiday in January. As I was preparing to go back to Shanghai, news of the virus broke. In compliance with local government advice, the school had to extend the closure period. I decided to remain in Scotland until the school is able to open again. My husband is still in Shanghai.’

She added that as the school is committed to continuing student learning, she and her colleagues come together online to plan what could be put in place for early years children.

Ms Kane also put out a post on Twitter calling for suggestions from other early years educators.

She added, ‘What we did not anticipate was how the online learning engagements would positively affect our relationships with our families. Suddenly, parents who were usually working were at home with their children, actively learning alongside them. The learning shifted to encompass the parents as learners too.’

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